theferrett: (Meazel)

I was terribly excited when my friend George told me about Room 237, because George had turned me into a The Shining addict.

See, The Shining was a source of deep disappointment to me for years – it’s one of my favorite Stephen King books, but the movie version was cold, antiseptic, and not at all surprising.  The whole point of the book was that you sympathized with Jack Torrance at first, and then he became a monster – with Jack Nicholson playing him, he was a lunatic from that first slimy, leery-eyed smile.  All of the family love that I adored about the Shining, where dysfunctional people who really cared about each other were teased into murder by the machinations of the hotel, had completely disappeared.

And then George started sending me videos.

The video that first got me was this analysis of the Shining’s literally impossible architecture, where there’s an office with an outside window where there logically could be none – and watch how carefully Kubrick has the camera follow Jack into that office, as if he wanted to show you just how crazy this all was.  There’s enough of those impossibilities that it becomes far more than your standard set-building shortcuts, and more like a subliminal effect Kubrick purposely built in:

And the more you know about Kubrick, the more you suspect he did it on purpose.  The man was a genius with a 200 IQ, an obsessive Freudian, prone to thinking in abstract terms.  He was meticulous about his sets, spending literally millions on 2001: A Space Odyssey to make sure that everything in the movie was space-ready and compliant with what NASA knew about space, even though no one else would care.  He placed cans on sets by himself, arranging them for his own purposes.  He gave Shelly Duvall a nervous breakdown during the filming of the Shining, forcing her to do a scene 200+ times until he was satisfied for reasons that nobody else on the set understood, setting a Guinness World Record for the number of takes.  (He might have broken that record with Scatman Crothers, were it not for people yelling at him with concerns that the elderly Scatman couldn’t take it any more.)

So if there’s one filmmaker ever who would have scattered his film with obscure references to tell an alternate story, it is Kubrick – revered, popular, given big-budget movies and no Hollywood control.

And if you look closely at the Shining, there are some very weird things happening that don’t make sense.  The architecture shifting is one thing; there’s clearly a body coming out of the elevator of blood in another.  There’s something going on beneath the surface, and given that Kubrick liked his films to be rewatched, some of those details are meant to be seen.

But then you have the guy who claims that the movie is actually about the genocide of the Indians, based purely on the fact that in two scenes, there are Calumet cans of baking soda, and they’re turned different ways.

What I wanted from Room 237, which documents these various Shining conspiracy theories, was to take us on the emotional journey – set it up that reclusive, cryptic Kubrick was the kind of guy who did crazy shit like this.  Show us the most obvious bits of mindfuckery so we’d go, “Oh, man, look!  He really fucked us on that one, I never noticed – what else is there?”  Then, bit by bit, show us increasingly dubious or arguable tricks of The Shining, stepping us further into conspiracy nutjob things, so by the time we get to the theory that The Shining is Kubrick’s encoded apology for faking the moon landing footage, we’re sitting there questioning everything we know.  Was any of this planned?  Was all of it?  Where do you draw the line on Kubrick’s intention?

But no.  The film is incompetent – just six faceless nutjobs rambling on their various theories.  The film starts with the Calumet can theory, one of the most ludicrous, shooting its wad in one go.  It barely touches on the legitimate reasons people think there might be a hidden message in the movie, ignores Kubrick mostly, giving no history, throwing out various weird bits of the Shining as if they’re all equal.

Now, some of my friends have liked Room 237 because it’s a look at conspiracy thinking, which I can see – the way these people obsess over crazy details, spending more time on an extra with no lines than all of Scatman Crothers’ scenes.  But the movie starts by trashing the very idea that there might be any legitimacy in these theories to begin with, then letting these guys drone on for ninety minutes with no unifying theme.  And they’re boring.  I maintain you could have made a way more interesting film out of this even if you just wanted to use The Shining as a meditation on how crazy conspiracy theorists get.

The film’s so incompetent that at one point, a crying child interrupts one of the narrators.  Do we cut this out of the film?  No.  We wait for fifteen seconds in silence, the film paused, while he tends to his kid.  It’s like they weren’t even trying, man.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Magic Mike:
Critics were astounded when it turned out that men wanted to watch a movie about male strippers.  This is because critics are dumb.  Magic Mike appeals to men because male strippers are shown as a low-level form of gangsters – having threesomes by the dozens, earning mad cash, part of a clan that only a few six-packed beauties can aspire to.  The bodies on display are for women, sure, but the storyline is pure masculine wish-fulfillment.

Unfortunately, Magic Mike is precisely half a good movie.  The tale of Magic Mike bringing his bro-heim into the fold is compelling, interesting, and clever.  But then the movie gets weighted down by society, where everyone knows that Those People Who Take Off Their Clothes Can Be Up To No Good, and so we are treated to a really tortured, character-wrenching series of plot twists where we see the emotional toll that all of this happiness and freedom brings you, complete with a botched drug deal and backstabbing and OH THESE STRIPPERS, THEY CAN NEVER BE HAPPY.  And so, as payment (spoilers!), Magic Mike has to abandon his club, and all his money, but as his reward he gets the cute, innocent girl he’s wanted to fuck all along.

Yes, society.  Good women are the prize that all men should get for acting wonderfully, and no person can be a sex worker without being secretly miserable and dysfunctional.  Way to go, fellas.

As a side note: the dance sequences in the film are elaborate, creative, and amazing.  One suspects there are a lot of disappointed women turning up at Chippendale’s afterwards.

Flight:
I know what they’re trying to do with this movie, but they fucked it up.

The intent is to ask, “How do you get back to your normal life after a major, life-changing event?”  And the first half hour of Flight, where the plane crashes and only Denzel Washington can save from total wreckage, are riveting.  Denzel earns his Oscar nomination here, because while the plane is plummeting straight down at 10,000 feet a minute and the crew is panicking, Denzel is barking our orders, calmly telling everyone what to do in the attempts to fix this.  Except, because Denzel’s acting is pitch-perfect, you realize that Denzel realizes just how bad things are, and is pretty sure he’s about to die, but is refusing to let it get to him.  (Perhaps, in part, because he’s drunk.  But he’s also a damn good pilot.)

The problem is that the most intense part of the film comes at the beginning; hell, you could have ended Flight at 34:00 and I would have been entirely satisfied.  But no, we then have to follow an alcoholic through his increasing assholery… so we not only have the aftershock of a lot of talking heads, which feels like a come-down after GOD DAMN THAT PLANE CRASHED, but the lead is entirely unsympathetic.  So we’re feeling drained, and though we don’t care.

The ending is also a large portion of bullshit.  We also probably did not need the ridiculously stereotyped porn star/junkie, fucking desperately for cash.

Django Unchained:
Like Flight and Magic Mike, this was a beautiful first half of the film.  The segments where Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz meet and become friends, with Christoph training Django how to be a bounty hunter… it was beautiful.  There were moments of true friendship, laughs as race was played with overtly, and some great action sequences.

Then there’s an hour and a half at Leonardo DiCaprio’s mansion when there should have been forty-five minutes.  And to drag the movie out further, one of the characters does a truly stupid thing that’s totally at odds with everything he’s been shown to be beforehand, at a time when he had effectively won.  (I mean, seriously, a little humiliation aside, he’d gotten everything he set out to do.)  It just felt tedious at the mansion (though I loved DiCaprio’s performance), with too many mundane plot twists and not enough forward motion.  I mean, if you’re gonna have people speaking, sure!  Have DiCaprio whip out the skull of his old slave servant and whap it on the table.  But we needed more skull-whapping moments, and less long dinner conversations.

Also, though I enjoyed it, I kept thinking, What would be the reaction if this had been made by Spike Lee?  And if we hadn’t had the ha ha, the guy directing this is on our side, this movie would have freaked the fuck out of America, and so it’s basically a multi-million dollar exercise in white privilege.  That doesn’t dismiss the goodness of the film, of course, but realistically it proves that this is all about the messenger.   And Tarantino’s in-film assertion (who knows whether he believes it) that the reason the slaves didn’t revolt is because they were meek and not as good as Django was, just maaaaaybe, a little facile given that at at least three points, Django only escapes out of purest fucking luck.  Hey, great to think that the point of the entire slavery thing is that blacks need to be more badass, but if Samuel Jackson had limped into that shed literally a minute later, we’d be talking about a very dead and humiliated Django.

So lots of problems.  Still entertaining.  But hoo boy.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Like the Battlestar Galactica remake, I did not enjoy this so much as I appreciated it.  It was beautifully done, a window to a level of poverty and culture that we don’t see much, but the whole thing was catastrophically painful and depressing.  Some seemed to think it was an uplifting fairy tale, to which I ask them exactly what brand of crack they are smoking.

This is the perfect Oscar movie.  Brilliant performances, saddening, you leave the theater feeling wrung of all happiness.  Good work, Oscars.

Hope Springs
This is a perfect little movie.  It doesn’t shoot high, restraining itself to the sex life of a very frigid old couple, but it hits every note it sets out to.  In a weaker Oscar year, I think Tommy Lee Jones could (and should) have been nominated for his performance.

A lot of people don’t like this film because, well, it’s about old people learning to fuck again, and OMG EYEW.  To which I say, fuck you, old people have every right to fuck and even more, and your disgust shouldn’t enter into it.  But Hope Springs is also a small movie; there’s no outside interference.  Steve Carell plays their therapist, in a truly amazing role because he’s actually a perfectly helpful therapist. He’s not trying to break them apart, he’s not incompetent, he is just in fact there to help, and he bats probably 85% in terms of giving good advice.

So what you have is a paintcan movie, where two people are effectively locked in a room until they work out their problems.  It’s good, subtle work, and enjoyable.

Plus, if there’s another film where Meryl Streep is sucking off somebody in a movie theater, I can’t think of it.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This year makes me pump the fist, because it’s what the Oscars are fucking for, man.

Last year was a thin, watery gruel of Oscars: a lack of good movies and a swollen Oscar category led to The Artist winning by default.  The Artist wasn’t a bad movie, but its winning felt like that guy you’re dating because you don’t want to be alone, but God you wish you had a satisfying romance in your life.  It was present, and competent, and even a little clever, but the best of a bleah bunch.

Yet with this year’s announcement, we have a bunch of movies that people loved, many of them box office successes.  I’ve seen people go off on passionate loving rants for Lincoln, for Argo, for Life of Pi, for, well, every movie on that slate except for Zero Dark thirty… and even those people are going off on rants on how creepily effective that film is portraying torture.  This is a field full of beloved movies, gladiators in the pit with people eagerly betting on them.

But more importantly, we have surprises.

Great but underlooked films had to go head-to-head with movies everyone has heard of, and liked.  Hey, who saw Beasts of the Southern Wild?  Amour?  I didn’t.  (And few saw Silver Linings Playbook.)  But when you realize that Beasts and Amour nudged out Quentin fucking Tarantino, on a movie that’s his most financially popular flick ever, then it’s a strong recommendation: we saw Quentin, and he was brilliant… but this was better.

So what I predict will happen is that people will go, “Crap, people are saying this is as good as Lincoln?  As Argo?  I should check this out.”  And tiny, tiny films will be financially rewarded – which always makes me happy, because “financially rewarded” means “these talented people will make more films, possibly with bigger budgets, leading to them having a career.”  Jennifer Lawrence came from nowhere in Winter’s Bone to get cast in The Hunger Games, and now she’s a star, and that’s partially thanks to the Oscars shining a spotlight on a good performance.

This is what the Oscars are meant to do.  Often, they’re this grim exercise in unhappiness, because the Oscar voting bloc seems to think that “no humor” == “MAGNIFICENT.”  But this year, you had movies with a lot of funny bits mixed in the drama – Lincoln’s weird anecdotes, “Argo fuck yourself,” pretty much all of Silver Linings Playbook’s weird love affair – and so I’m energized to see the rest in this year’s Quest To See All The Oscars, as opposed to my usual “Oh God I’m in for ten hours of miserable people trapped in hopeless situations.”

So yeah.  Go, Oscars.  You took a good year and worked it.

Oscar-specific thoughts:

  • Silver Linings Playbook cleaned up, as it should.  I dislike the director personally, as he appears to be a dick not too different from his manic-compulsive hero in Silver Linings, but as a quirky love story it’s a brilliant (and accurate) take on dysfunction. When the dinner conversation revolves around which anti-anxiety drugs you’ve taken, and their side effects, and it’s flirting?  Oh, man, I hate to admit how many times I’ve done that.
  • I hope the six-year-old actress from Beasts of the Southern Wild wins, just so we can say to Hollywood, “A girl who picked up all of her acting tips from Dora the Explorer did better than Sally Field.”
  • First thing we checked: Yep, Anne Hathaway made it.  We don’t have to kill anyone.
  • Hugh Jackman also made it for Les Miserables, which… he didn’t deserve.  I thought in many ways he was the weakest part of the film.  But here’s the thing: I love High Jackman as a person – he appears to be generous for an actor, and sensible, and possessed of both a work ethic and a sense of humor, so I’m not going to bitch.  I’m just going to be happy for him.
  • I really wish Seth McFarlane had announced the Best Actor category by saying, “The nominees for ‘Best Actor’ are Bradley Cooper, Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, and Joaquin Phoenix.  The winner for ‘Best Actor’ is Daniel Day-Lewis.  Let’s not kid ourselves.”
  • Robert DeNiro’s turn in Silver Linings Playbook is, honestly, the first nomination I think he’s deserved.  I mean, I like DeNiro, but to me he’s an actor like Will Smith – hey, this is someone pretty much like DeNiro, being DeNiro!  So I don’t give him that much credit for acting chops.  Nor did the producers of Silver Linings Playbook, since I know they auditioned him in the very scene where he convinced me he could act because they had worries it was outside his range.  But they cried, and I cried, and dammit Bob why have you been wasting all this time playing mobsters.
  • The big loser of the day, I think, was “Moonrise Kingdom.”  I haven’t seen it yet, but I have heard good things – just not good enough for this year. Then again, it’s not like the Oscars have ever really loved Wes Anderson anyway, so I could be wrong about that.
  • Quentin shut out for Best Director?  Ouch.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The entire time I was watching the Hobbit, I thought, “If the Star Wars Prequels had been done like this, there would have been a lot less complaining.”

This is not to say that The Hobbit is as good as Lord of the Rings – it isn’t, merely because despite Peter Jackson’s attempts to infuse The Hobbit with LotR’s gravitas, it’s a smaller and fluffier tale.  But it knows how to get fanservice right.  There’s so many delightful moments in this for those who loved the movies that it feels like going back home again.  And maybe it’s a little long, and a little silly at times, but there’s pleasure in revisiting that comfy, comfy hobbit-hole.

Beyond that, I’m too tired to string together bits into an essay, so let’s just bullet-point.

Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo, mainly because he refuses to be shackled by Ian Holm’s performance.  Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is the quintessence of befuddled, polite Brit – trying to be nice, yearning for something greater, but not quite honest enough to tell people how he’s really feeling unless he’s backed against the wall.  It’s a delightful performance, filled with great body language and perfect comedic timing….

…but that would all be for naught if Martin’s Bilbo didn’t have a heroic side to him, too.  We know, because the movies tell us he will, that Bilbo stayed his hand for Gollum out of pity.  We know, because of narrative need to show Bilbo’s character development, that this must be A Moment in the movie.  And when the time comes for Bilbo to put on his Big Damn Hero pants, it’s all the more effective because no, he isn’t a hero, he’s a small man determined to do right.

The Dwarves were largely a mass of indeterminate beards, but I plucked a few personalities out of the bunch: Thorin, this movie’s Aragorn, the old smart infodump dwarf, the stupid young one, the two fighting ones.  This isn’t really a detraction, though, as the dwarves are supposed to be a chaos, and so they are.  Much is made in the film of people counting them to ensure they haven’t missed one, and that’s a nice subtle cue to the reader that no, we don’t really know them all either.

The movie zipped along quite nicely.  I was expecting ass-creep, got very little.  People who complain about the pacing may have a point, but I suspect for them there’s no joy in seeing all the tiny parallels and fleshing-outs of LotR’s world.  I kept going, “Oh!  Now I know where that came from!” As I said: fan-service.

Peter Jackson has a sense of spectacle.  This film is gorgeous eye-candy, and that also speeds things along.

Hey, remember when Legolas stabbed an orc with one arrow, then shot another orc with the same arrow, and that was badass?  And then Legolas did the flippy-thing on the horse in Two Towers, and that was badass?  And then Peter Jackson went batshit crazy and had Legolas take down an Oliphaunt in a movie that should have been badass, but instead defied physics to the point where instead of shouting in triumph, you instead suppressed a Flintstone-like urge to yell “YABBA DABBA DOO!”?  Well, sadly, a large portion of the last third of the film consists of a CGI spectacle where physics fail to matter, like the elephany battle squared, and you have a bunch of dwarves jumping and fighting in ways that would clearly not work in the real world, and as such it feels more like a videogame than anything you actually care about.  It’s exciting, but there’s zero tension because, like Indiana Jones, you’re excruciatingly aware that these are guys fighting imaginary constructs on videogame platforms.  And that’s a very sad loss, because this should be a great battle sequence and instead it’s just more eye candy.

The Gollum scene is delightful, as is Gollum.  My love for Andy Serkis swellss.  Unfortunately, the other CGI creations that get full-sequence aren’t nearly as compelling; in particular, a legendary Orc badass looks very plasticine in closeups, with waxy scars, and I kept going, “Uh, yeah, that’s fake.”

The soundtrack is wonderfully interlaced; the Dwarf mourning song feels very organically placed into the film, and the way the movie interlaces threads of old LotR themes with new ones is quite delightful; little tidbits of hobbitness whenever Bilbo’s feeling homesick, snippets of The Ring theme showing up here and there until, like the Aston Martin in Skyfall, the arrival of the One Ring lets it blaze forth…. It’s delightfully done.

Given how quickly X show up when Y requests their presence, do not tell me how the X couldn’t have dispatched the ring right quick in LotR if they’d wanted to.  These guys are delivery service.

The additions to the film are, as I feared, more Jackson than Tolkien.  There’s a lot of sequences where we get to see Big Spectacle and maybe don’t need to, but Jackson wanted an exciting chase sequence here, and so he sifted through the Silmarillion until he found a sentence somewhere that justified it.  And there’s a big ol’ meeting where people stand around and go, “SAURON’S DEFEATED, WE TOTALLY DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT HIM,” and Gandalf is like, “No, hey, Sauron is totes coming three films from now,” and they’re all like, “Well, let’s discuss this some more.”  Which is not entirely successful at grafting the events of The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, mainly because it’s a very long and talky scene, but on the other hand it’s kind of like watching the remaining members of Nirvana reunite in that yeah, maybe it’s not that great but you’re just happy to see ‘em all standing around again.

Is that Doctor Who as Radagast the Brown?  Holy fuck, I’m glad the man still has a career!  Go you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So someone on my Twitter feed posted this most excellent link: “The Tea Party Will Win In The End.”  And by God, he’s right.  The money quote:

Such is the power of denial that we [liberals] simply refuse to concede that, by the metric of intractability, at least, conservatives are the cockroaches of the American body politic, poised to outlast us all.

The thing that’s always struck me about liberals is how blitheringly stupid they are in writing off an entire half of the goddamned country.  We’re so utterly convinced that we’re morally justified that we actually forget that opposition exists.  And so the history of me being liberal(ish) is watching people go, “What?  Bush won?  California passed Prop 8?  Tea Parties are winning elections?  How did that happen?”  And every time it’s like someone ripped off a Band-Aid, and there’s this sense of terror that the world has gone terribly wrong.

No.  It didn’t go wrong.  You just forgot to fight.

Dude, conservative rhetoric is here to stay, and no matter how laughable you may find their ideas, many people believe it and it does not cease to exist because you can’t take it seriously.  Stop being shocked that hey, they’re still here after every victory you accomplish.  You let down your guard, they come surging back.

Many of the liberals I speak to seem morally outraged that they even have to discuss their ideals, as though they’re as natural as water and it’s sheer stupidity of anyone to need to know about how noble you are.  Cut that shit out.  You gotta stay in there punching, man, because the conservatives sure aren’t, and they’ve never ever stopped taking us seriously.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You cannot understand how good Cloud Atlas is until you understand all the fine qualities of my ass.  My ass is a fine-tuned, boredom-detecting machine.  Placed in the uncomfortable seat of a movie theater, my ass will creep at the slightest hint of movie padding, and it’s rare that my ass emerges from a film without proclaiming, loudly, that this movie was ten minutes too long.

Cloud Atlas is three hours long, and my ass barely quivered.

That is how good Cloud Atlas is. For me.  As I’ll explain shortly, there are some very good reasons why Cloud Atlas might not be for you.

Cloud Atlas is actually six stories woven together, and individually, each of the stories aren’t worth much… and they’re violently at odds with each other in terms of tone.  How does the comedic flailings of Jim Broadbent as a hapless publisher trying to avoid being beaten up by his thuggish clients interlace with the cold Asian future of clones, where Doona Bae is born into slavery at the futuristic equivalent of an Applebees, meant to be used and discarded?  How does Tom Hanks mutter-and-patois rendition of a post-apocalyptic future beset by Braveheart-painted horse-riding savages intertwine with Halle Berry’s 1970s nuclear power plant investigations?  Judged on their own merits, most of these tales don’t even have a definitive ending, let alone a satisfying one.

But that’s the trick; the Wachowski siblings move from plotline to plotline with the rapidity of a man spinning plates, sometimes, switching between three plots in the course of a minute.  And they layer on the emotional resonances, so that the storylines are not knotted together by coincidence of plot, but by mood; it’s not just one character falling into mortal danger, it’s three people at once.  Four people discover the meaning of friendship within two minutes, each emotional revelation pouring into the next.

Alone, each of these notes would be simple.  Yet in this, the Wachowskis create the cinematic equivalence of a chord, repeatedly and skillfully playing the same notes with variances so they harmonize, swell, take on greater meaning than any single instance of a tale.

The flicker-and-flash keeps the story moving, as you don’t have the time to ponder where it’s all going; just as you’re starting to see down the pathway of the amanuensis storyline, when it would become predictable, you’re wheeled off to the 1850s tale on a bobbing Transatlantic ship-journey, and are distracted all over again.  This is one tale where there is a narrative necessity of having multiple jump-cuts, and it works.

…or it doesn’t.  The problem with Cloud Atlas is that, like old-school Kirk Star Trek and Titanic, it’s so bold and big that you kind of need to buy into it.  Does anyone ever talk like they did in Titanic?  Well, no.  And stylistically, either you buy into it – in which case it’s magnificent – or it plummets straight into the Land Du Frommage.  The Wachowskis were trying to make A Statement by slurring racial lines, having white people as black people and men as women and asians as whites and yes, whites as asians – but that statement is, usually, “We needed a bigger makeup budget.”  Because the Negri- and Caucasizations are usually pretty decent, but the attempts to turn whites into asians makes people look like low-budget Klingons.  They don’t look asian, they look off-puttingly foreign, like some sort of warped branch of humanity, and oh God is that Doona Bae as a ginger don’t look directly at her she will twist your eyeballs like Twizzlers.

I didn’t find the yellowfacing to be racial, as I’d feared.  I did, however, find it to be a constant distraction.  Likewise, I was charmed by the garbled patois of Tom Hanks’ post-apocalyptic future, but I could easily see it being laughable – and frankly, Tom Hanks’ attempts to do non-American accents were hysterical.  (Let us not start on poor Hugh Grant attempting to do what I’m pretty sure is an American accent.)  While Cloud Atlas is unflaggingly beautiful to look at, there are a lot of substandard executions you just have to take as a part of it, and I suspect most moviegoers haven’t.

Plus, Cloud Atlas is being oversold.  Roger Ebert refers to it as though it’s some sort of deep and crazy mystery, man, fuckin’ Cloud Atlas, how does it work?  But no.  It’s six simple stories, weaved together, and the only mystery is whether Roger Ebert is getting too old to follow films any more.  Nor is Cloud Atlas really deep, man – yes, it has attempts at Buddhist overtones with reincarnation and such, but the main message is “friendship is good, oppression is bad.”  It’s a sweet, simple idea, wrapped in a very crunchy shell, but don’t mistake this for a movie that will blow your mind.  Fight Club raised a lot of philosophical questions and then infamously refused to answer them, making it as genuinely complex as a Hollywood film gets – Cloud Atlas raises few questions and then never wavers on where the moral center is, planting its finger and saying, “Here.  Here is goodness.”

But that’s part of the charm, for me.  Cloud Atlas isn’t trying to be cynical, not trying to hide a simple moral message with needless complexity that way, say, The Fountain tried to.   The Fountain was afraid of speaking simplicity because for them, “simple” meant “unworthy of consideration,” and so it gussied it up with a lot of pretention and obscurity.  There’s nothing obscure about Cloud Atlas.  It wears its heart proudly on six sleeves.  There’s not a lot to debate, just a story told well, and even if you hate it you’ll probably hate it in an interesting way.

My advice: go see it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

All my science-fiction writin’ friends are in love with Looper, and it’s easy to see why: Looper isn’t a movie.  It’s a science fiction book that’s been filmed.

See, the plots of movies are like a snake eating itself: the first half sets up all the elements in the movie – all the characters, mysteries, and plot points – and then you hit the tipping point and the movie spends the last half tidily wrapping up each element that it’s introduced.  They usually shift the third act to a new location just so this pattern isn’t quite as evident… but once all the elements have been touched upon, the movie is over.  Roll credits.  It’s satisfying, but it’s also predictable – nothing wrong with a good formula, but you can use it a little often.

Whereas Looper is a lot like an Alfred Bester novel.   It’s still introducing new concepts and mysteries when you’re halfway through the movie, and they turn out to be central to the plot.  There are a lot of side journeys and toss-off concepts that aren’t wrapped up in a tidy way.  Things are very messy, which makes Looper as unpredictable as a spitball.

That doesn’t mean it’s the best sci-fi movie ever, or even the best time-travel movie starring Bruce Willis meeting his younger self, but the novelty makes it something far fresher than the usual slew of pre-fabbed films.

The trick of Looper is that time travel has been invented, but it’s instantly outlawed.  The mafia sends people back in time to be killed – it’s explained that technology has advanced to the point where they can’t hide a body in the future – and quite often, the Looper-hitmen are assigned to “close the loop” and kill their future selves.  As Loopers are chosen from a bunch of hedonistic junkies, this is approached with a cynical fatalism – hey, I’ve got thirty years to party!  And those who are weak and let themselves go encounter horrible, horrible fates as the Mob chases both of them to ensure that the future isn’t changed.

That’s the first sign of how unpredictable Looper gets.  In any other film, the shocking twist that Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to kill his older Bruce Willis self would be the unique factor – he’s the only one who’s ever had to murder himself!  Why?  But making the self-destruction mundane is just one of Looper’s many hidden tricks.  This subtle bit of worldbuilding actually makes things far better.  If this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, then Young Joe would immediately sympathize with Old Joe and they’d team up to get revenge.

But no.  Young Joe is infuriated by the way that Old Joe is fucking with his life now, sees Old Joe as greedy and selfish (which, yes, they both are) for not succumbing to the fate that he signed up for, and so the two of them are at odds throughout the film. They don’t like each other.  They shouldn’t.  Even though they’re the same person, they have entirely different agendas.

The acting is also top-notch.  The makeup to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis is a little intrusive at times, making him look a tab Kabuki, but both actors meld – you’d expect Bruce Willis, being the big star here, to be just Bruce Willis, but no, Bruce takes on just enough of JGL that it’s not quite the Die Hard of the Future.

Now, Looper has some serious flaws.  People have called it an internally consistent time travel movie, which it most certainly is not – it’s the usual messiness of multiple futures, not quite explained.  And while the characters are wonderfully defined and acted, their ends are not often well thought-out – Jeff Daniels plays a mob boss with such a beautiful affability I wanted to watch him all day, but in the end his character is almost literally discarded. If it was a book, it’d probably be a B-grade book – lots of great ideas, a weakish plot.

But as a movie, Looper is something interesting and new and worth watching just for a fresh take on cinema.  I liked it an awful lot.  I’d encourage you to go see it, if you like time-travel films.

 

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I went into The Dark Knight Rises as spoiler-free as it is possible to be these days. I saw the trailers, so I knew the main antagonists were Bane and Catwoman… But that was about it.  I had zero idea what was to actually happen in the film.

And I think it was far better watched that way, so my review will be vague and oblique: Go see it.

I’d say it’s the best superhero film of 2012, except this is the year of The Avengers, which is neither better nor worse. The Avengers was a perfect execution of old, fun-style Marvel comics that didn’t worry too much about reality as long as you had some exciting fights and good quips.  The Dark Knight rises is about people who happen to do superheroic things, a big-ass action movie wrapped in costumes, and there’s a lot of time spent on character growth.

I never felt like any of the Avengers were in serious danger.  I felt like any one person in The Dark Knight Rises could be taken out by a lucky gunshot.  Which puts the accent severely on “hero.” When Bruce Wayne puts on the armor, he’s putting himself in harm’s way.

As for the movie itself, Christopher Nolan understands the cinema.  He does exciting things in film that haven’t been done on screen before, ever – big, splashy setpieces you have to see on the big screen to appreciate.  The Avengers will fit well on a home-screen TV, as it’s comfort watching, but The Dark Knight Rises will feel a little constrained by not being forty feet high.  He takes huge risks, putting the stakes incredibly high in a way that’s breathtaking to see, and breaks the mold of what we expect from a superhero film.  Bane’s plot is audacious and breathtaking, and he’s a worthy villain.

And lastly, Nolan pulls off the hat trick of unifying his series.  I know, because unlike Lucas he is man enough to admit that he made the Batman series up on the fly, that the ending wasn’t planned well in advance.  But all three movies do have an arc, and the ending neatly answers some plot threads and hanging questions that were started back in Batman Begins – hanging questions that, even having watched Batman Begins the day before the movie, I missed.

Christopher Nolan said the first Batman film’s theme was “Fear,” the second was “Chaos,” and this one is “Pain.”  It was two and a half hours, but it flew by so quickly that despite me drinking a huge-ass iced tea before entering the theater, my bladder never tickled.  I finished feeling wrung-out and satisfied, because this is a tense film and a worthy achievement.

Neil Gaiman thinks it’s Oscar-worthy.  I disagree. This is the kind of action film so good that the Oscars will snub it, and I say good.  Some films are too good for the Oscars.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So they rebooted Spider-Man.  Some people think this is stupid, having a new Spider-Man this soon after the last movie.  To which I say, “Did you see the last movie?”  No offense, man, but better to leave that in the wreckage and start over than trying to venture into IV territory.

There has never been a really good fourth movie in a series.  Ever.  Burn it to the ground.

Anyway, so this new Spider-Man is pretty much the same as the old Spider-Man – young boy learns about responsibility through a gunshot wound, fights crime, does not get the girl.  And it’s satisfying.  It’s not quite as good as Spider-Man 2 – what could be? – but it’s better than the first first Spider-Man.  Should you go see it?  Do you like people swinging from rooftops, beating up muggers?

Well then.  Your answer’s clear.

The difference is really all about nuances, and the nuance here is that Toby Macguire was a nerdy-looking kid who became smooth when the time came.  His upside-down kiss with Mary Jane?  Smokin’.  When he put on the suit, he became someone who was actually kinda cool.

Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is never cool.  He moves like a spastic bug – no, seriously, he’s trying to move like a spider, all gawky.  When he kisses Gwen Stacey, it’s almost wince-inducing, because he’s not quite sure where his mouth goes, and neither is she, and though he later proclaims her a good kisser, one senses a bit of rightful hesitation before she returns the favor.  He has the haircut of a modern emo star, but if there’s an opposite to “Moves like Jagger,” well, Andrew nails it.

However, Garfield’s Spider-Man makes up for it by being clever.  Toby’s Spidey lucked into things, evincing no particular brightness, whereas this new Spider-Man knows science!  He reads books!  He uses tricks in combat, bouncing all sorts of things with his webbing to dazzle his enemy!  Which, in a way, makes him more of a hero.  You had problems buying Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as being someone hated by the crowd, but Garfield’s Spider-Man?  He moves like an untrained kid with super-speed flailing about.  You believe he could hurt someone by accident.  He looks a little out-of-control.

Which is kind of nice.  Both Gwen Stacey (Spidey’s TRUE love, he says sneeringly) and Peter are incoherent, trailing off in Seinfeld-ish riffs as they’re both a little too flustered to finish their thoughts.  Neither of them are cool.  You wind up rooting for them because, hell, who else would they date?

Obvious plot is obvious, but this is a comic book movie and we know that President Josiah Bartlett must die.  Unfortunately, the stunt casting of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May is distracting, because I kept going, “Why is Forrest Gump’s Mom raising Peter Parker?”  And Martin Sheen is trying a little too hard to give big speeches, and not quite hard enough to connect with Peter on a human level.  Ben’s death, however, is exceptionally painful because it’s not the usual comics death where he gets to gasp out the classic speech about “With great power comes great responsibility” before he dies – no, he just gets shot.  And his legacy is a voicemail Peter can’t quite bear to listen to.

The weakest part of this Spider-Man is, sadly, the villain.  The Green Goblin was possessed of all of Willem Dafoe’s inherent looniness, and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock was the warm, supportive uncle you’d always wanted to have.  Curt Connors, however, is pretty much a vacant space on screen.  He stares longingly at his missing arm, as though it’s where his screen presence used to be.  When he becomes the Lizard, the initial scene is very compelling as he’s trying to be the hero, but then he degenerates into monologuing as he starts wanting to CHANGE TEH WORLD in a way that’s not really driven by his character all that much.

And Denis Leary does a fine job playing Denis Leary.  If you’ve always wanted to see Denis Leary in a Spider-Man film, well, here he is.  If you expect to see him act as Captain Stacey, well, let us just say that his last major scene in the film is perhaps the most laid-back approach to tragedy one will ever witness.  In a moment of what must be personal anguish, he looks as though he’s about to eat a sandwich.

Still, hey, it’s Spider-Man.  It’s a good riff on an old favorite.  Well worth seeing, if not nearly as exciting as the first time you saw Spidey bouncing around.  They do a good job with the 3-D, but there’s only so many ways you can make a web-slinger crawl.  Still, it made my birthday celebrations grand.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

WARNING: SPOILERS-A-GO-GO. 

I’ve found a rather interesting discussion of Brave breaking out in my comments stream - mainly, “Was Brave’s culture a patriarchy?”

The reason why this is a question is because I said, “I mean, it’s great showing a Princess fighting the power, but can we have a strong female hero who’s not defined by fighting against frilly dresses and societal expectations?”  And several people said, “Well, it’s Merida’s mother who’s forcing her into that, not the culture.  Her Mom, in fact, is the main antagonist!  It’s not really the men creating these problems.”

(Not that her mother’s a villain, but she certainly is an obstruction.  Sorta.  Go see the movie.  It’s not the greatest, but it’s interesting in how the parts that don’t work, don’t work.)

Leaving aside the historical question of “Yes, the 10th century Scottish tribes were patriarchal,” as I think we can all agree that the Scots didn’t have actual witches and magic bears, I think it clearly was.  I don’t think women warriors were encouraged, nor women generally allowed to choose their free path.  Mainly because, based on my evidence from one showing:

1)  At no point in the movie do I recall seeing a woman warrior within Princess Merida’s culture.
2)  Certainly the three tribes who show up to claim Merida’s hands are all male, with no women (or at least I didn’t see any).
3)  All the women shown in the film (aside from the two female leads and the witch) appear to be either mothers or wives.
4)  Though her dad is clearly proud of her skills with the bow, in the end he backs the mother and actively mocks Merida’s desire to be a free warrior.
5)  When the three tribes show up, full of warriors, there’s not a female warrior to be found in the bunch.
6)  They also don’t bring their wives along.  Nor any women anywhere.
7)  When Merida is dressed up in a useless, tight, form-fitting dress, not one man reacts to find this awkward.
8)  When Merida is not married off, they go to war.
9)  Despite the fact that the mother is clearly overbearing on this topic, not one person in the castle expresses the concern that the queen might be a little forward on this manner.  In other words, she’s enforcing a position that nobody else seems to find unusual.
10)  When Merida proposes a solution to the problem that involves changing the culture, it is the men who instantly approve that change and put it into practice, without consulting a single woman.

Now, the counterpoints are:

1)  The only person we see really arguing for the marriage agreement is the mother.  She proposed it, in fact.
2)  The other tribes clearly respect the mother, calming down only when she lays the hammer.
3)  The dad is the one who gives Merida a bow and teaches her how to fight.
4)  The women warriors from the three tribes could be at home, given the important task of guarding the home front.

To which my counter-counterpoints are:

1)  In medieval societies, the mothers often proposed marriage agreements, but that doesn’t mean those societies weren’t patriarchal.  Women frequently had more power than modern people believe in those days, but it was often kind of a sideways power, filtered through male needs.
2)  The practice of Chinese foot-binding was often the result of intense pressure from mothers wanting their daughters to look beautiful, but the fact that the pressure largely came from women doesn’t mean that the culture wasn’t patriarchal.
3)  I see Merida as perceived as a rebel, and as such Dad’s handing her a bow isn’t the act of a normal father, but rather a quirky King who can do what he wants.
4)  We could suppose stuff like this all day long.

The fascinating thing about this discussion is about how it’s all about perception.  Given the world we see, there’s no definitive answer to the question: after all, we while we don’t see anyone chastising the mother for her actions, we don’t see anyone condoning her, either.  The reactions of the people are a few gasps in reaction shots.  The everyday actions of women are difficult to extrapolate, given that we don’t actually interact with them.

All we can see is this strange little window, trying to judge what’s normal in the middle of a story about three extraordinary people (a King, a Queen, and his daughter) in an extraordinary time.  And yet for all of that, I think it’s clear that Brave is a largely male-run society, where Merida is not rebelling against one woman’s crazy desires, but rather a whole culture that wants her to be pretty and delicate.

Yet the structure of Brave makes it oddly hard to tell!  Which is fascinating.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Over on Twitter, I said that The Dark Knight was a flawed movie, but it had a perfect ending for Batman, in that that film’s ending would have worked for no other superhero.

Which raised the question: is there a flawless movie?

Now, on the one hand, that’s a rather silly question, because of course every movie is flawed: if nothing else, there’s always continuity errors where a glass of water is filled when viewed from one camera angle and then empty when we cut to the next.  But I mean without meaningful flaws.  Which opens up a huge chasm, because somebody somewhere is screaming, “THAT GLASS OF WATER IS DESTROYING MY BELIEF IN THIS FILM’S REALITY,” so “flawless” is obviously a personal call.

In addition, society has this weird belief where “great” == “flawless.”  But some of the best movies in existence are seriously flawed!  Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a sloppy mess of a dystopia where the romantic leads have zero chemistry, some seriously plot-meaningful lines are stepped on by gags in the background, and some scenes go on for too long.  It is not a flawless movie, but somehow it manages to transcend its flaws.

So when I was thinking of flawless movies, the first one that came to mind is Casablanca.  But it’s not flawless.  Actually, the intro is rather amateurish, complete with 1940s voiceover clunkily info-dumping you about Casablanca, montages of cliched characters, and the inevitable line-drawn-on-a-map.  I’d argue it approaches flawless once Rick comes on-screen, but that’s a surprisingly long time in coming.

My gut reaction says “Galaxy Quest,” because it has everything: comedy, serious adventure, great characterization, a character arc where everybody learns something, and of course Tim Allen.  I’ve watched that movie at least twenty times and there’s always a new laugh squeezed in there somewhere.  And it’s magnificent in how it starts as a Star Trek parody, then ultimately becomes one of the best Star Trek movies ever.

(I’d say “Princess Bride,” but for me there’s a serious flaw in the swamp scene, where the ROUS is attacking.  The first two viewings, I didn’t realize we were supposed to take it seriously, because the rat is such a bad special effect that I thought it was another gag.  To this day, that really bothers me.)

In terms of drama, well, the traditional choices are gloriously flawed.  The Godfather is often slow and takes a long time to get going, so much so that I had to watch it twice before I could get into it.  Gone with the Wind has a lot of good points, but again, with a movie that length there are some seriously draggy bits to go along with the highlights of the burning of Atlanta.  And even I won’t present Star Wars as a perfect film merely because it sings to me.

The flawless drama for me?  “The Royal Tenenbaums.”  For me, the mixture of emotions in it are pitch-perfect, every scene this little ball of interaction between quirky characters that could take place between them and only them, no scene going on for too long.  And there is redemption, but it is not easy, and there’s enough humor to leaven the load.  I just wish someone hadn’t stolen my copy of it.

Then we have the flawless action movie, which I think only has two real choices: Die Hard and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And I think Die Hard has a few not-great moments, but Indy?  Hell, I’ve been sucked into Raiders more times than I can count, because someone’s watching it and I go, “Oh, I should go – but the fight next to the plane is coming up!  And then, oh God, I can’t miss the car chase scene where he goes under the car!”  And so on.  As far as getting me to the next scene, it’s incredibly hooky.

So.  I ask.  What’s your flawless movie?  And please, I will reiterate, a flawless movie is not “a movie you like so much you’re willing to overlook its flaws,” but rather “a movie that doesn’t misstep in any meaningful way.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Brave is an irony: its singular message is “we make our own fate,” but the plot largely consists of the characters following will-o’-the-wisps to the next action scene.  They don’t get to be particularly clever by creating their own solutions… but they are very, very brave.

Which is not to say that Brave is a bad film.  It’s just that the lead characters are hampered by a certain lack of agency.  The opening is great; the Princess boldly decides to make her own way, making a decision that’s just a little selfish to follow her own dreams.  Emotional complexity results.  And then…

…magic.

Not the good kind of Pixar magic, but the kind of magic that says, “Well, we want to hand solutions to our characters – so being magic plot devices, we’ll force the characters into the configurations they need in order to solve their personal problems.”  And that is, admittedly, classic fairy tale logic.  But at the same time, the best of those fairy tales had characters making vital choices; when they were lost, they were sometimes lost for years.  When they defeated a monster, it was often because of their own cleverness.  And I don’t really feel that the lead characters of Brave are all that resourceful; mostly, they wander in the woods until they pick up the will-o’-the-wisps, who in this case act as a kind of videogame help system to guide them.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for Brave in that it’s got a lot of emotional and moral complexity for a kids’ film.  Princess Merida’s family feels agreeably real – or perhaps disagreeably real, because they’re a family constantly beset by arguments, and arguments of emotional heft that literally can’t be resolved without serious compromises that no one is willing to make.  But they obviously still love each other, that sort of love that comes from fondness.  And Princess Merida’s choices have political consequences that are usually absent from a film about love.

And Brave is kind of a feminist movie.  Princess Merida doesn’t really need to be rescued from anything but her own bad decisions, so on one level she’s a strong female character.  Yet on the other hand, the storyline is the same hackneyed “Men don’t believe that women can make choices, woman shows them but good,” that sort of reinforces gender stereotypes at the same time it breaks them.  I mean, it’s great showing a Princess fighting the power, but can we have a strong female hero who’s not defined by fighting against frilly dresses and societal expectations?

And the animation is wondrous.  There’s a character who is transformed, and the transformation is heartbreaking simply because they don’t do a cartoonized version of that character.  That character becomes what they’ve been transformed into, a clumsy thing shambling around in a body that’s unfamiliar, and that turns what could be comedy into pathos.

The end is very powerful, when the daughter makes some bold choices, and the family comes together.  But I spent a lot of Brave wishing those powerful, meaningful choices had been made every step along the way to this climax.  I wanted to watch a film where the characters discovered things on their own initiative, instead of following glowing blue dots like Pac-Man gobbling his way through a maze to find the next power-up.  As a result, what you have is a Pixar film that will resonate strongly with some – the feminist messages and the beautiful Scottish landscapes are going to call to people – but for me, ultimately lands somewhere between A Bug’s Life and Cars, which is to say a lesser Pixar offering without being as actively bad as Cars 2.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

GM RIDLEY SCOTT: So you’ve all been in cryosleep for two years now, on a mysterious mission to the stars.  Your bodies lie in capsules, tended to by -

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: I’M A ROBOT!!!!!

SCOTT: What?

FASSBENDER: I’M A ROBOT OH BOY!  I never need to sleep.  I’m gonna spend the whole trip watching movies, and running around the ship, and playing X-Box… It’s so cool!  Wait!  Does the ship have a gym?

SCOTT: …I guess.

FASSBENDER: I’m gonna ride a bike and shoot hoops!  Because I’M A ROBOT!  How do I do when I shoot?  Huh?  Tell me how I did.  I bet I did awesome!!!!!

SCOTT (rolls some dice): Sure.  You get it through the net.

FASSBENDER: I do it again!  Look at these stats on my character sheet!  They’re through the roof!  Being a robot is awesome.  I bet you wish YOU guys were all robots…

CHARLIZE THERON (whispering to fellow player STRINGER BELL): Hey, am I a robot?  I can never make sense of these character sheets.

SCOTT: Okay, yeah, Fassbender, you make a lot of hoops.  Then the ship shudders to a stop and everyone wakes up.  Your bodies cry out for nutrients…

STRINGER BELL: I smoke a cigar and set up a Christmas tree.

SCOTT: …what?  This is an enclosed spaceship!  Where the hell did you get a Christmas tree?

STRINGER BELL: Right on my inventory sheet.  I come prepared.  You’ll also see I have three freeze-dried Chihuahuas, a can of shark repellent, a case full of silly string, and a tin full of Mexican jumping beans in my left pocket.

SCOTT: Okay.  You set up a Christmas tree.

FASSBENDER: I’M A ROBOT!

————————————

SCOTT: So you all meet inside the gymnasium.

FASSBENDER: I SHOOT A HOOP!

SCOTT: No, you do not.  You’ve never met these people before.  Now you have to introduce yourself.

SCARY TATTOOED GUY FIFIELD: Wait a minute, we’ve never met each other?  Weren’t we all in cryosleep on a multimillion dollar mission into space?  Didn’t we at least have some kind of pre-ship meeting?

SCOTT: No.

FIFIELD: What, did they wheel us onto the ship in cryosleep?

FASSBENDER: I DID IT WITH MY ROBOT ARMS!

SCOTT: See?  Mikey wheeled you all.  That’s how it works.  In space.

THERON: Christ, Ridley, it’s a roleplaying cliché if we all meet at the inn when the plot-coupon guy hands us an adventure… but at least that makes sense.  As adventurers, we’d be drinking at the Inn.  We didn’t take some techno-roofies and lay down in a vaccubed to be shanghaied seventy million lightyears into space, only THEN to be told what the fuck we’re up to.

SCOTT (grumbling): Like you girls know anything about roleplaying.  Girls don’t do anything.  They don’t even give birth in this campaign.

THERON: What?

SCOTT: Nothing.  So you’re all at the Inn…. I mean the gym….

————————————

MILLBURN: Whafuck, there are DEAD ALIENS here in the compound?  That shit’s bad news.  I’m leaving.

THERON (facepalming): Millburn, you’re a biologist.  This is the first non-Earth biological structure you’ve ever laid eyes on.  This should be your holy fucking grail.  Why do you want to leave?

MILLBURN (waving character sheets): Look at this guy!  I’ve got no combat stats at all!  I’m toast in combat.

FIFIELD: Holy crap, you’re right.  Who the hell gave me 90% skill level in – what the hell is geology?

SCOTT (facepalming): The study of rocks.

FIFIELD: Why the hell would anyone wanna look at pebbles?  I wanted to bring weapons here!  I’m all bad-ass!  I have tattoos and a scraggly beard, and you’re telling me I’m not ju-jitsu expert, just the master of dirt?

MILLBURN: Yeah, screw this noise, let’s go back to the ship.  I’m not gonna get myself killed.

SCOTT: Fine.  You go back to the ship.

FIFIELD: So what’s happening there?

SCOTT: Nothing.  It’s the ship.  All the adventure’s over in the, you know, deeply alien complex I made this gigantic map of.

MILLBURN: You’re telling me there’s nothing to do back here?

FASSBENDER: YOU CAN SHOOT SOME AWESOME HOOPS!

MILLBURN: Shut UP, Mikey.  All right, fine.  We go back to the alien complex and wander around.

THERON (horrified): Do you… Want to tell anyone where you go?  Radio in?  So people know what happened to you after you left?

MILLBURN: Nah, we’re cool.

FASSBENDER: HEY YOU GUYS THIS ALIEN CHAMBER SLIME TASTES AWESOME IF YOU’RE A ROBOT.

————————————

STRINGER BELL: So, you wanna have sex?

THERON: You know, I think this is what passes for character development in this game.  Why not.

FASSBENDER: THIS SLIME IS SO COOL.  What happens if I feed it to Holloway?

SCOTT: Wait a minute, you find the alien muck that you don’t know what it does, on the same ship with your ailing master who you’re programmed to protect at all costs, and you’re just going to… Feed it to someone?  In the hopes of what?

FASSBENDER: I’m a ROBOT, man! I don’t think human!

HOLLOWAY: Wait a minute, I don’t want to eat alien slime.

FASSBENDER: LOOK AT THAT TWENTY GUYS I ROLLED A TWENTY ON MY CHARISMA CHECK!  CRITICAL!  EAT A BUG HOLLOWAY!

SCOTT: Yep.  He bamboozles you.  Down your hatch the alien slime goes.

HOLLOWAY:  What?  I don’t even get a save?

SCOTT: It was a very good roll.

HOLLOWAY: Oh, for Christ’s sake.  Charlize is right.  Hey, Noomi, you wanna have sex?

NOOMI RAPACE: Baby, let’s make character development all night long.

————————————

FIFIELD: GOD, this game’s boring.  So they went back to the ship and didn’t tell us?

THERON: You didn’t tell us where you went!

FIFIELD: At least you’re having sex.  If I’d known I could have had sex with you, I would have totally spammed that attack, if you get my drift.

MILLBURN: Okay, we found some more dead bodies, and there was some kind of blip over there, and so now what?

SCOTT:  It’s an abandoned alien complex.  It’s been dormant for two thousand years.  There’s not that much to do.

MILLBURN:  Fuck, man, throw us a bone.  Make a roll on the wandering monster table or something!

SCOTT: Fine.  Fine.  You want random fucking monsters?  Okay, a… A deadly alien snake rises from the muck.  It looks like a cobra, flaring its hood at you and swaying back and forth.

MILLBURN: I POKE IT!

SCOTT: It eats you.

MILLBURN: Man, that is so UNFAIR.

————————————

SCOTT: All right, Noomi, that was some pretty amazing work.  You exit the autodoc, stomach stapled, alien extracted.  I totally thought you were hosed.

NOOMI: I find Mikey.  Fucking Mikey.

FASSBENDER: HI NOOMI!  YOU’RE AWESOME!  That was so cool, the whole “zip” and “snap” and “slurp” thing!

NOOMI: Now I’m going to kill you.

FASSBENDER: But why?

NOOMI: Because you just tried to kill me.  By implanting an alien baby inside of me.  I assume you’re either trying to destroy me personally, or are generating aliens as part of an elaborate biowarfare program.

FASSBENDER: …no.

NOOMI: No?

FASSBENDER: I just wanted to see what would happen.  Dude, it’s cool, you’re alive, I’m alive, now let’s go meet a alien!  I found a frozen one.

NOOMI: …how did you wake it up?

FASSBENDER: I pressed a LOT of buttons.  They went beep!

NOOMI: What are you going to do when you meet the alien?

FASSBENDER: I’m going to tell it that my dad wants to lick it.  ‘CAUSE I’M A ROBOT.

NOOMI: This I gotta see.

————————————

SCOTT: So you kneel in front of Weyland, in service, and clasp his hand.

THERON: I’ll do what you want…. (pauses dramatically) …father.

(Entire group GROANS in anguish.)

FIFIELD: You really went there, Charlize?  Calling him Dad?

THERON: SOMEBODY has to roleplay here, you ass!

SCOTT: You shut up.  I think it’s cool.  Fine, Charlie, he’s your dad.

FIFIELD: 1979 just called, man.  It wants its plot twist back.

SCOTT: Will you shut your pie-hole?  You’re ruining my game!

FIFIELD: I’M ruining it?!?  Dude, I’ve been dead for an hour now!  I’m bored!  Way to DM, lameface.

SCOTT: What do you want me to do?  You fell in acid and DIED.  There’s not much to do after you’re dead.

FIFIELD: …what if I came back as an alien zombie, revengeous for blood, and attacked the ship?

SCOTT: That makes no sense.  On the other hand, I did stat all of these NPCs who I never gave names to.  Okay, fine, roll it up.

————————————

SCOTT: All right, Charlize and Noomi!  The alien ship is tumbling from the sky, landing on you.  It’s falling in a completely straight line.

NOOMI: I juke left.

THERON: So do I.

FASSBENDER: RUN WITH YOUR ROBOT LEGS, CHARLIZE!

THERON: …what?

FASSBENDER: You’re probably a robot, too!  That’s how you find out!  I bet you run real super-fast, like a rocket, when your life is in danger!

THERON: But the ship will crush me.

FASSBENDER: DON’T LET THAT SHIP BE THE BOSS OF YOU.

THERON: …fine.  It’s not like I’m missing out on all the excellent plot twists if I die.  Ridley, what happens if I run in a straight line?

SCOTT: You get squished.

FASSBENDER:  YOU’RE A FLAT ROBOT, CHARLIE!

————————————

SCOTT: Okay, so the pilot and his two friends killed themselves out of boredom, Fifield and Millburn killed themselves out of boredom, and the only people left are Noomi, and -

FASSBENDER: I’M A ROBOT!

SCOTT: Noomi, you wanna play again?

NOOMI: Can I stuff Mikey’s head in a bag so he shuts up?

SCOTT: God yes.

NOOMI: I’ll be here next week.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Whenever someone bitches about how stupid the creators are for producing a terrible movie, I think of Star Wars.  Not Star Wars, the global sensation that’s been around for thirty years – but Star Wars, the over-budget mess in mid-production, staffed by no-name actors, directed by the guy who’d had only one decent movie in the can.

If you read the interviews with the actors, they all went out after filming every day and got hammered.  And why not?  By day, you’re reading terrible, stilted dialog while the director screams at you: “Faster!  And more intense!”  You don’t see the special effects; you’re on a wooden screen, knowing the studio wants to shut this production down.  You don’t hear the John Williams music doing half the emotional work for you.  All you know is that this crazy maniac is telling you that all your attempts to emote lines like “How could I be so stupid? He’s nowhere in sight. Blast it!” aren’t sufficient while idiots in white plated armor are firing imaginary guns at you.

Why wouldn’t you drink?

Why wouldn’t you think this movie was the end of your career?

And even then, you’re wrong.  I know you’re thinking, “Well, it was all a success after that,” but… The movie that George Lucas directed did bomb.  The unsung hero of Star Wars is the film editor, who realized the initial cut was about twenty minutes too long, and went back and sped up the film to helter-skelter speeds – because the minute you had a second to pause and think about things, the whole thing fell apart.  The initial few cuts were legendary failures, and everyone in Hollywood was kissing George Lucas’ career goodbye.

The reason I say this is because I work in a couple of creative fields – I write stories, and I handle Magic: the Gathering cards as my day job.  And whenever something isn’t particularly, there’s this entitled, sneering reaction from the fans.  They leave comments over and over again with the same basic premise: “God, you’re so fucking stupid.  Fixing it’s so easy.  Why didn’t you just do X?”

Because it’s not that simple when you’re in the middle of the damn thing, that’s why.

Look, if we could all write glorious stories of magnificent heartbreak every time, we would.  But the creative process is really very complicated.  You’re complaining with the fresh sight of retrospect.  Scott Kurtz, author of webcomic PVP, once said that you couldn’t really critique a webcomic until you’d done one.  At the time, I disagreed strongly.  Once I had a year of producing a webcomic under my belt, well, I wasn’t so certain.

It’s not that you can’t critique – hell, you absolutely should.  I spent this week slamming Prometheus for failing absolutely on all but an allegorical level.  But when you critique, you shouldn’t take the attitude that the creative process is simple… And particularly not if you’ve never made anything and thrown your darling out to a crowd of angry, ungrateful people to be savaged.

When the project is done, it’s easy to look back and see what could have done better.  But in the middle of things, when you’re looking at a half-blank slate and the world is full of ten thousand choices, it’s hard to fathom that this one choice is the critical one.  Or perhaps – and this is the thing that the people who think “it’s simple” never get – that you made a hundred very good choices, more than most people ever do, enough to catapult your film/book/card game/music past the realms of “stuff that no one pays attention to” and into the realm of “good enough to for many people to like” – and in the process of making those hundred choices absolutely correctly, the one that stopped it from being pure genius got by you.

And maybe – just maybe – it’s possible that as a creator, you make a film/book/card game/music that absolutely satisfies you, but doesn’t hit anyone else’s good points.  That happens.  A lot.  And if you’re sitting there squalling because the creator should have “known better,” then maybe you should try creating stuff that’s perfect for you, and see the horrifying variance in reactions when your “perfect” product hits the shelves.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t criticize.  If Promethus sucks, well, it failed.  If something I write doesn’t win every award, well, it’s worthwhile to point out why my stories didn’t pan out.  But what you should not do is to treat the whole thing as a big ball of rage, as if we purposely set out to annoy you when making it.

We didn’t.  We wanted to make beauty.  Something got in the way, and we’re sorry… But if this was as easy as you think, then everyone would do it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Before we can discuss Prometheus, I must first give a brief history lesson on Frustrating Science-Fiction Movies That Panned Out.

Now, when Blade Runner came out, it was widely viewed as an incomprehensible failure – critically panned.  The motivations for the lead characters baffled people – fortunately, the film had a clear line for villanous Replicant Roy Batty, who wanted “more life, father,” but people were wondering why the fuck Deckard was so mean towards poor Rachel.  I’d like to say the clues were all there, but they weren’t.  They were subliminal, beneath the surface.  Few people really knew what the fuck was happening until the Director’s Cut of 1991 gave us a dream sequence and an origami unicorn that told us, “Hey!  Deckard’s a Replicant!”

It was all there from the start…. except who the fuck could interpret it?  But, you know, some people like lots of ambiguousness in their sci-fi.

Likewise, the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey was often viewed as senseless eye candy for stoners… And it was.  But if you watched the movie a lot, or read the Arthur C. Clarke book that explained it all, then repeated viewing did reward you with a series of events that turned out to have a rather wondrous coherency.

Yet those are the exceptions.  For every 2001, there’s a hundred lesser films that looked to have a shit ending that didn’t hang together, and lo!  It seriously did not.  On the other hand, we have a genius director in the form of Ridley Scott, who’s kind of famed for being smarter than his audience.  On the gripping hand, we have Damon Lindelof, who’s famed for flinging up his hands and going, “It was about the experience, man, not the explanation!  Don’t get so hung up on, you know, a logical cause and effect!”

So.  Prometheus is getting a lot of flack because it didn’t make any sense.  So is it a hot mess, or a cunningly-plotted movie that will reward the viewer for digging deeper?

The good news: It’s both!

If you’re confused by Prometheus, Adrian Bott explains the aliens’ motivations to you - including the driving force of their culture, the reason why they created us, and the reason why they then turned it around and wanted to kill us.  (WARNING: Link involves both spoilers and Space Jesus. No, seriously, Space Jesus.)  And viewed from this lens, Prometheus’ overarching story (the creation of both us and the Aliens) makes perfect sense, the kind of subtle storytelling that really functions in a long-term sense.

So yes!  It all comes together.  In the long run.

In the short run, the run that’s underneath a gigantic spaceship tumbling out of mid-air, Prometheus makes no sense at all.

Prometheus is that rare movie where the aliens’ motivations ultimately make more sense than the humans.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what Prometheus is trying to do: by keeping the characters’ motivations oblique to us, it’s trying to saturate us with a sense of mystery and concern, because every moment on the screen could reveal something new about the crew.  It’s trying so hard to pull off that trick of making every bit of character in media res, which keeps us on our toes.

Unfortunately, this fails if the characters don’t have consistent motivations, or use.  And that’s exactly what happens in Prometheus… In particular to Charlize Theron, where the entire film would have functioned exactly the same if she were off the ship.  (As my smartie wife points out, she does two things that someone else would have had to do anyway, and one inexplicable thing with the Captain that distracts him from something he couldn’t have done anything about anyway.)

I mean, seriously (mild spoilers ahoy!), you have the guy who plotted the map, who yells how he’s out of his depth and wants to go back to the spaceship, and then wanders off with his buddy to get conveniently lost?  You have a biologist who apparently trained at the Steve Irwin Institute Of Fuckology, whose reaction to the first living alien being he’s ever encountered is to poke at it?  You have an entire crew of people who’ve been hauled out for a four-year mission in cryosleep, and they not only do not know why they’re going, but they have never met each other, even incidentally, on the way to their cryosleep chambers?  You have a lead character who inspired this whole goddamned mission into space, who desperately believes the aliens can [ACTION REDACTED], and it’s never explained WHY exactly he’s so confident the aliens will [ACTION REDACTED] that he spends a trillion dollars on an expedition to nowhere?  And whoa, look how happy the Captain is at the end!

The problem with Prometheus is that we have characters acting in completely random ways.  I think that Tobias Buckell nailed it when he said that the reason the first two Alien films worked so well was that everyone in them worked so hard to stay alive in a character-driven context.  Yes, often their actions were suicidal in retrospect, but given a) what the characters knew and b) what their ultimate goals were, it made perfect sense that such a mass of fuckery would erupt.  Since we don’t understand what the half-drawn characters in Prometheus want to do right up until the moment that they do it, we as the audience are frustrated because it’s a big shaky ladder of “Why did they do that?” and then we have to extrapolate the reasons why.  Which isn’t satisfying, and doesn’t hold itself up to poking nearly as well as Scott and Lindelof think it does.

On the other hand – and this is a big hand – Prometheus is fucking pretty.  The shots are gorgeous.  The visual effects are new and stunning and certainly worth your popcorn money.  I could watch it again just to have my eyes fed pretty pretty candy.  But on the gripping hand, it’s also not a particularly scary movie – there’s one terrifying sequence in the middle involving staples, but mostly the terror isn’t there because hey, these guys are getting killed by SFX, look at that.  Hey, look at it.  Dopes getting meat-ground.

The good news is that Prometheus does inspire debate.  It’s a challenging movie, which is rare these days.  Unfortunately, it’s challenging like the pissy bouncer at a bad club, where you get this feeling of initial triumph of getting past him, and then discovering that the club itself is shabby with overpriced drinks.

Prometheus is worth seeing.  It’s a very, very hot mess, the kind where you’re nearly glad you bedded hir.  But then you walk away feeling your self-esteem’s been a little corroded.

Your spoiler discussions may now commence. I’m certainly going to list some complaints in my first comment.  (And if the title confuses you, watch this old SNL skit.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So this week, Gini and I watched two old movies: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Godfather.  Sadly, all the violence was in the wrong film.

Don’t get me wrong, as Breakfast at Tiffany’s is fascinating from a historical perspective: you can see its proto-hipster DNA in every quirky indie movie made these days.  Unfortunately, while for many this is like discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls, for me it’s like uncovering the lair of the Alien Queen.

Yes, Holly, you’re so forcefully odd!  You do such whacky things!  What a bold character you are, rebelling against the system by attending thrift shops and leading your childish little life!  It’s endearing that you’re so purposefully irresponsible that you have to keep annoying the horribly stereotyped Asian because you can’t be bothered to carry your fucking keys!  By the time she tossed the cat out into the rain I’m like, “YOU DUMB BIMBO, YOU’RE KILLING YOUR CAT OUT OF PIQUE!  I HOPE YOU DIE IN A GREASE FIRE, YOU STUPID CAT MURDERER!”

On the other hand, I now see who Zooey Deschanel writes her royalty checks to.  So that’s something.

Watching the Godfather, on the other hand, makes me think of how the horrifically fucked-up 1970s monoculture led to the glamorization of gangsterism.  Because let’s be honest: at that time in American cinema, there was no way you could have a major motion picture about just an Italian family.  It wouldn’t sell!  America only likes looking at white people!  So you had entire categories of ethnicity who only got shown in the margins – Italians, Jews, Mexicans, you name it, they only showed up as secondary characters, and often played by a white guy smeared in startlingly bad makeup.

So Coppola was smart: he threaded his Italian heritage into the movie, making The Godfather as much about everyday Italian lifestyle as it was about gangsters.  It’s no error that the movie starts off with a long wedding sequence where not much gangstery happens at all – there’s some negotiations and stories, but mostly it’s a lot of random relatives dancing and food and people interacting with each other in a unique way.  The movie is entirely about family, but one of the reasons it’s so effective is that family isn’t just held together by the mob, but it’s held together by all the cultural ties that held Italians together at that time.  You think it’s an error that there’s actually a cooking lesson in the middle of the movie, on how to make good sauce?

If Hollywood had allowed a lot of stories about Italian families, well, Godfather probably wouldn’t have had its moxie.  But because Godfather was notable for not one, but two elements being introduced to the mainstream, suddenly you had the love of tight-knit Italian clans AND the epicness of the mob, both of which became entwined to be interminably romantic.  People were like, “Hey, this is actually kind of heartwarming!” not realizing that what they were reacting to was largely the Italian-ness that white producers had conspired to keep off-screen for years.

I wonder: if Hollywood hadn’t been so bleached in those days, had dared to show Italians as families without gangster ties, would Godfather have even made a dent?  And if the Godfather hadn’t romanticized the mob, making it seem glamorous and appealing, would we have ever encouraged a culture that now glamorizes crime in the mainstream?  In other words, did the enforced Anglo-ness of filmmaking back then lead, in a complex fashion, to the rise of the thug lifestyle?

I’m not attached to any of it, really, but… food for thought.  Delicious Italian food.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Joss Whedon understands what we want out of the Avengers, which is not to see Thor and Iron Man teaming up.

No, what we want is to see Thor kicking Iron Man’s ass.

Thankfully, this is what the Avengers delivers: lots of hot hero-on-hero action. Who cares about the villains? We’re not nearly as invested. What we need to see is our favorite hero battling our other favorite hero to a standstill.

And ho, there is lots of that. Delivered for competent reasons – the Avengers have very good reason to be hostile to each other. And the fight scenes are pants-wettingly cool, in that sort of musky good-fluid kind of way.

The Avengers is stuffed with so many characters that character development practically has to happen via pithy quotes, which is why it’s a good thing that the King of One-Liners, Joss Whedon, wrote it. The plot generally keeps moving, and the Big Bad is helpfully played by Loki, who is played so wonderfully that you barely notice he has practically no character development or motivation at all.

Frankly, the least interesting character on the team is The Hulk, and Whedon seems to have made up for that by giving the Hulk all the best… well, you can’t really say “lines,” but let’s go “moments.”

There are a couple of minor issues I have: Captain America becomes a tactical genius at the end not by dint of anything he did in either of the two movies, but because he’s a military guy. And the final battle consists of just a shade too many generic mooks getting pounded, leading to a hair of tedium.

But overall? What you’re looking for, it delivers. Big, splashy superhero battles done with coolness. Jaw-dropping fight scenes. Laughs. As far as a tentpole movie to kick off the summer season (sort of…) it works, and as such I can tell you that if you had the urge to see this movie you’re almost guaranteed to be correct in your assessment.

Not that this was going to stop you from seeing it this weekend anyway. But let me reassure you that the money you spent on the ticket already is certainly worth it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

We saw The Adventures of Tintin last night, and didn’t care.

It’s kind of weird, because Tintin was supposed to be thrilling!  Full of chills!  A wild, Raiders-style whoop-it-up where you get even crazier stunts!

The problem was that none of these stunts actually happened.

Watching Tintin, I saw a lot of cartoon bodies careening about, but as wonderfully rendered and animated as they were, they were still CGI.  You see a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you know subliminally that somewhere, a stunt man put himself in danger for this.  There’s a real guy under the truck, a real set of spinning blades, people fighting for balance to not fall off the plane.

Whereas Tintin had bigger stunts, but they were all hollow.  I kept looking up admiringly, saying, “That’s nice setwork” – but I never really felt like these floppy CGI ragdolls were in any danger, nor did I care.  People soared and sailed in a meticulously-choreographed stunts, but why was I invested?  Tintin and Captain Haddock had were more random collections of plot hooks and traits than real people, so it certainly wasn’t that I was invested in their goals.  This was such a happy-fresh movie that it was apparent that Goodness Would Win from the opening credits, so it wasn’t like I was worried they’d lose.

(And yes, it’s a comic book movie.  I’m aware of the origins.  But as an introduction to these comic book characters, I didn’t much care for Intrepid Boy Reporter Tintin, and Captain Haddock was amusing sidekick relief but so goofy that I wrote him off.  It may be accurate, but it didn’t really grab me.)

I’m not saying that CGI leads to not caring.  I mean, Gini and I nearly wept with tension at the end of Toy Story 3, where the toys were in the garbage heap.  But if you’re going to treat your characters as comic relief for the entire film, with only brief and obligatory pitstops at the well of We Will Show Our Interior Pain For Thirty Seconds, then I’m not going to care at all.

Whereas with a lot of terrible action films that absolutely no characterization, my reptile brain is still tickled during the action sequences because I go, “Holy crap, someone’s in danger.”  More often than not it’s the stunt guy, but when someone’s hanging off a building, there’s all of these subtle cues that tell me to worry.  And I do.

It was interesting.  Adventures of Tintin should have been riveting.  Everything was bigger than Raiders.  But somehow, it wound up being smaller.  And I worry this is what Spielberg and Lucas wanted from Star Wars and Raiders in the first place.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I was watching Tower Heist last night, which is a better movie than it has a right to be.  I knew it was about Ben Stiller and his other service-job buddies breaking into the apartment of the rich banker who defrauded them out of their pensions… But I wasn’t prepared by how much character work went into what’s otherwise a pretty by-the-numbers film.  There was a lot of effort put into showing how helpless and futile these working-class stiffs, most of whom took some pride in their jobs, felt when they were ripped off by a guy who wasn’t even punished for what he did.

Then I read that this was initially meant to be an African-American “Ocean’s 11,” and it all sort of came together.

I think I would have enjoyed this film a lot more if it were an all African-American film – it would have been stereotypical in its portrayal of blacks being the underclass, yes, but also more interesting to see a bunch of smart black men (and women) triumphing against a broken system.

But then I thought of Red Tails, which George Lucas claimed that Hollywood refused to fund because “all-black casts don’t sell movies.”  (Presumably because whites don’t want to see them.)  I know that’s why Tower Heist eventually had to get Ben Stiller on board.

That irritates me, because there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy here.  Most movies don’t sell.  You need to have your films make two to three times their initial budget to start being profitable, and the vast majority of movies don’t clear that.  Hell, Tower Heist with its all-white cast, sure didn’t.

So saying, “Black casts don’t sell movies, so we don’t make them” is kind of like saying, “Look, we gave you your one chance at bat, you missed, so you blacks clearly aren’t meant to be baseball players.” Forgetting that even the most skilled baseball players are lucky to hit four out of ten.

I think the perception is that white people won’t watch black people, which is doubtlessly true for some white people.  But on the other hand, it’s amazing what happens when a Will Smith or a Denzel Washington become a box-office star, because then somehow that white terror goes away.  Or when Tyler Perry makes a film, which admittedly mostly appeals to black people, but then those films get insta-marginalized to the field of “Tyler Perry films,” which is Hollywood code for, “the man’s a freakish outlier, nobody else can do this.”

Look, Hollywood.  You know what people want?  Good goddamned films.  The truth is, you don’t really know how to make them; as William Goldman once infamously said, “Nobody knows anything.”  If creating a hit movie was as simple as putting the right elements together, every movie would be a hit.  But some movies have an indefinable something that makes them great, and most do not.  Why?  Hell if I knew.  If I did, I’d be churning out bestselling novels.

So take some chances, man.  Make more action-adventure movies with all black casts.  See what percentage of them catch fire.  Because giving them one big shot every decade or so isn’t enough at-bats to see how someone’s truly hitting, man.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I went to see Titanic 3D this weekend, and it’s interesting how big a movie it still is.  I don’t think of it as being made in this era, because it’s got this Gone with the Wind sweep that you don’t see much any more – a huge tale of two thousand people on a boat, from rich to poor, wise to greedy.

Yeah, I know, we have tons of epic movies these days now that we can have CGI extras, but the extras look very CGIsh.  Something about the way James Cameron shot Titanic makes the extras look like people, struggling for life, each with their own story that’s being extinguished in the freezing water.

And I have just a batch of weird observations on the movie, in no particular order.


Expanding on my thoughts about traditionally quote-unquote “female” stories (and Titanic is often viewed as a chick flick), it’s interesting to watch the way Jack consistently ignores what Rose knows, because He Knows Better.  She’s actually saying, “Jack, no!” and Jack is ignoring her, pulling her along, in a flagrant disregard for Rose’s stated desires.  And yet Jack is right.  He does know better.  But is this teaching guys to just ignore what chicks say?

Or is that a human desire?  After the film, I told Gini she was my Jack, and after I explained that I didn’t want her to die in a vat of freezing water, I explained that when I was down or self-loathing, she’d pull me to a place I didn’t want to go that made me a better person.  Is it universal that we’re all looking for someone who knows us better than we do ourselves, and is strong enough to ignore us when we need to be ignored?


One of the things I haven’t seen mentioned as a strength of Titanic is the strange pleasure we take in the crew’s demise.  Not that we’re happy they’re dying, but the crew seems psychotically devoted to keeping the ship running right up until their hideous drowning, and there’s a certain satisfaction to be seen in people so devoted to their duty that it clearly can’t be the money at work.  Titanic’s romance is also partially built on this bedrock of people will do their duty, even when that duty is so blinkered as to keep the third-class passengers locked in the lower decks.

I mean, come on.  If I was on the Titanic, being paid McDonald’s wages to do laundry, I’d be cracking rich people skulls to be on that fucking lifeboat.


I actually counted.  When Billy Zane is not making merely factual statements about what he wants, there are precisely three lines in the entire film where he is not wrong.  His whole purpose in this film is to be precisely erroneous at every step.


Knowing how freezing the water is, I have problems believing that Jack and Rose would be able to be submerged in the frigid below-decks water several times for minutes at a time, and then be perfectly okay. I know, I know, but it matters, man.


There’s a lot of parallels in Rose’s isolation-journey and Ripley’s isolation-journey in Aliens.  I should watch them one after the other to see how they stack up sometime.


I still think old-Rose is a dick.  Come on, man, the guy’s been searching for the diamond for three years.  He’s obsessed.  You’re gonna be dead in two hours anyway.  Let him have it.


Old-Rose is also a dick because I can never stop feeling bad for her second husband, waiting alone in Heaven, knowing that the fifty years of support and love he put in for her don’t matter worth a good goddamn.


The greatest tragedy of Titanic is that Rose and Jack brought it upon themselves.  When Rose and Jack emerge after fucking in the car, kissing and shouting, they distract the lookouts, who promptly crash into an iceberg.

Therefore: Rose and Jack’s fucking caused the ship to sink.  DON’T HAVE SEX, KIDS.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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